The lazy, warm breezes brushing your upturned face and tickling the grasses and as crickets chirrup, and the aroma of the wild herbs rises about you, and all about you the broad sweep of the azure sea, the Mediterranean meeting the Atlantic, a ring of moored cargo ships from across the globe, a frigate moored at the Mole and uncounted yachts glinting across the harbour. And a 1,398-foot mountain waiting to be climbed from the sea, caves, redoubts, apes and a town like no other at their foot. Welcome to Gibraltar.
If you thought that Gibraltar was just that eccentric town and its freebooting apes, a place for fund managers and discharged soldiers, lift your eyes and explore.
The Rock rises from the sea, precipitous on the Mediterranean side, a sheer cliff facing the frontier with Spain, and pretty steep on the Atlantic side too. A network of cliff staircases and footpaths climbs up the upper rock.
The highest point is O’Hara’s Battery, named after the Governor, General Charles O’Hara, who built a tower here in about 1800 to observe the Spanish based at Cadiz (which proved impossible, but a gun battery was set up at this point a hundred years later), and the battery can be reached by way of the Mediterranean Steps or the Douglas Path. The guns have been removed, the blessings of peace, but could be fitted again quickly were the need to arise.
O’Hara’s is not the only dormant gun battery to be seen: there are about a hundred batteries and redoubts across Gibraltar, commanding the narrow sea or defending Gibraltar itself against attack.
Gibraltar can also be a base for wider exploration: north of the frontier is Spain, the most mountainous country in Europe apart for Switzerland. On Gibraltar’s doorstep are the dramatic hill villages of La Frontera, and beyond them the mountains of the Sierra de las Nieves.
The whole of the Upper Rock is a nature reserve, and entry for the day costs £10 for non-residents on foot. It is well worth the little price for what can be found there. Here are the peaks, the open scrub, the high batteries and the wildlife. The apes gather where people are found, ready to steal any unguarded food. The Barbary partridge, unique to Gibraltar, can be found hiding in the scrub.
Walking in Gibraltar is not like a day in the Highlands. Even on a midsummer’s day in the Monadhliath the wild walker is prepared with solid boots and raingear against sudden storms, but the heart of the Highlands is around 57° North, and Gibraltar is at 36° 29′; within sight of Africa. Good shoes are still essential, if not the full walking boot (though pack them if you are thinking of going for further afield across the frontier).
Here the biggest danger is overheating. Be light and layered: a sleeveless top and a light, windproof, stowable jacket are ideal, and a light sun-hat. If it is likely to rain, the rain can be anything from a mizzling drift off the sea to a veritable monsoon, so a good rainproof is needed here.
The midges are not those of the Highlands, but there are plenty of native Mediterranean biters, including ticks and mosquitoes. You might also, particularly if you walk at night or in caves, get a rabies jab just in case, as local bats can carry the disease.